Mastalgia - Breast Pain
My Breast Hurts - Can it Be Cancer?
The medical term for breast pain is mastalgia and it is a concern for women of all ages, particularly in Western industrialized countries. The automatic response when we have pain in our breast is to jump to the cancer conclusion. Cancer does not have many warning signs, but pain is not one of them as a rule. There has not been a great deal of research study into the causes of breast pain and consequently, treatments are not clear and direct.
Even though breast pain usually has no connection to breast cancer, it is the first thought and most prevalent fear for a woman when pain hits. It is important, therefore, to see a doctor and rule out the possibility. A breast exam for lumps and an ultrasound to ensure there are no hidden growths is advised. Fear can be a crippling agent when it comes to taking this first step. Somehow we think that if we don't know, it isn't happening. Most of the time, when we feel something out of the ordinary, it is benign. However, it is your body telling you to pay attention and you should be listening.
Tracking Your Hormones
Tracking pain during menses is a good way to determine if there are any hormonal issues going on that can contribute to breast pain. Sometimes, breast pain for women in their 40s is a sign of perimenopause. Women who are younger and experiencing breast pain three-quarters of the month long, with relief only felt during menstruation are probably dealing with a hormonal imbalance.
The breasts are incredible organs, capable of taking protein, water and blood and converting it to milk. Your breasts are composed of fat, fibers and glands (ducts and lobules) that are ready to produce milk and are prepared to fulfill that task every single month during the menstrual cycle. The fibers are like ropes that hold up the glands and support the breasts. The fat gives the breast its fullness and shape. Our genes determine how much of each component we have. Our breasts change throughout our lifetime as they develop from puberty through the childbearing and nursing years to menopause and on to old age. We see the changes monthly during menses and more slowly as we get older.
The Ups and Downs of Estrogen, Progesterone and Menstruation
The most common source of breast pain is the fluctuation of hormones during the menstrual cycle. Estrogen and progesterone spikes in the second half of the cycle cause our breasts to swell and become lumpy and tender. When our period arrives the uterus sloughs off the endometrial lining and the breasts reabsorb the extra fluid. As time goes on and we approach menopause, the hormones become unbalanced and tenderness or pain is felt in the breasts. You may be able to tell when you ovulate by the sensations you feel in your nipples or breasts. This could indicate an excess or depletion of either estrogen or progesterone. The pains will be in both breasts with one breast sometimes having more tenderness. It occurs before menstruation and lets up when the period arrives.
Food, Drink & Medications
Some things that exacerbate cyclic pain, making it worse include:
· some of the foods we eat
· medications we take
· beverages we drink
Caffeine contains a chemical that causes blood vessels to dilate, which can lead to increased sensitivity and pain. Decaf has less caffeine as do most sodas and chocolate. Excedrin, the pain reliever, has as much caffeine in one pill as a cup of coffee. High-salt diets cause fluid retention that increases swelling, putting a strain on breast tissue. Fatty foods, particularly animal fats, have been shown to contribute to breast pain. Although the cause is not clear, it has been suggested that the reason ties in to the hormones meat animals are fed, or perhaps the way fat is broken down by our bodies. The often reported allergy to dairy products by women can also have its source in an allergic reaction to the hormones fed the dairy animals. The standard American diet is proinflammatory in general and this causes hormone imbalance.
Of the medications that cause breast pain, birth control pills with hormones in them as well as HRT (hormone replacement therapy) top the list. The levels of estrogen and progestin that are in the pills may not be suitable for you and they cause hormonal reactions that present as breast pain. Other medications that can cause breast pain are:
· some psychiatric medications
· cholesterol-lowering drugs
· heart medication
The Stress Factor
Stress is also a big factor in generating breast pain. The links between emotions, hormones and the immune system are just beginning to be understood. We all have different stress levels and stressors and we all need to learn proper and effective ways to relieve stress and enhance relaxation. It hasn't helped that the advances in pain control and sanitary protection now enable us to carry on during our periods as though nothing is happening. We need to remember to take some time for restoration instead of racing through life at breakneck speed.
Learn more about some other causes of breast pain in this article.